Antioch Church: a Model for Local Church Ministry — Part 3
Last time we looked at the importance of servant leaders in the ministry of the local church. Barnabas served faithfully in the Jerusalem church and was sent to the church in Antioch in order to help there. By studying the example of Barnabas, we observe a man whose personal faith in Christ was manifested in his lifestyle and love for others. God used Barnabas to encourage the church in Antioch to continue holding fast to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now we see a brilliant example of discipleship as Barnabas goes to find Saul!
Barnabas Discipling Saul in Antioch Church
25 Then departed Barnabas to Tarsus, for to seek Saul:
26 And when he had found him, he brought him unto Antioch. And it came to pass, that a whole year they assembled themselves with the church, and taught much people. And the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch.
As Barnabas rejoiced in the gospel-centred ministry of the Antioch church, he realised that this was an excellent opportunity for Saul to gain ministry experience in a predominantly Gentile church located in a major city of the Roman Empire. Barnabas left Antioch for the moment and travelled to Tarsus in search of Saul. After finding him, Barnabas brought Saul back to Antioch. Remember that Saul was once a vehement persecutor of believers, but repented of his sin and placed his faith in Jesus Christ. In fact, Christ had commissioned Saul as an apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:1-19). Barnabas understood the importance of gospel-centred local church ministry and brought Saul to Antioch to learn and grow alongside other believers.
Saul entered into an intensive, year long local church ministry training experience. During that year, Barnabas and Saul met regularly with the church and spent much time teaching many people. What was the content of the teaching? They remained committed to the proclamation of the gospel and the living out of the gospel in their personal lives (11:20-21, 23-24). This would set them in sharp contrast with the secular society in which they lived and the false religious groups that participated in many pagan and wicked practices. Saul learned much as he fellowshipped and worshipped with the Antioch church. He poured his life into them and they poured their lives into him and Christ was glorified! Saul learned the importance of discipleship as he was discipled by Barnabas and the elders of the Antioch church (Acts 13:1-3).
A fascinating comment is made about the Antioch church by the Roman society in which they lived. The disciples were first called “Christians” in Antioch. What does this mean? The term “Christian” is thrown around so much in our world today, but what did this title originally signify? It is important to remember that this title was given by the unsaved secular society of the day as a description for the believers. In the ancient world, there were many groups who received names (Herodians, Zealots, Epicureans, Stoics, etc…) which identified them as followers of a certain worldview. The “Christians” were those that secular society recognised as followers of Christ. How incredible that these believers were so passionate for Christ that their identity was clearly recognised by the secular world and a name applied to them!
Do those around you, at work, at school, at sport events, etc…recognise you by your identity in Christ? Do they know that you are a follower of Jesus? Have you sought to be an encourager and disciple-maker in your local church? Or are you in need of discipleship? Ask to meet with your pastor and talk about these things with him. How challenging and refreshing it is to look at the lives of Barnabas and Saul as they ministered in Antioch church. Next time we will look at Antioch church’s desire to minister to other churches in need.